Businessman Tom Steyer spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and launched his own bid to become president last July. Military Times reached out to his campaign for answers on several questions related to his military and veteran policy plans if he is elected president.
To see all of the candidate responses, click here.
President Donald Trump has touted that the U.S. military is now stronger than ever before, due to increases in military spending and fewer battlefield restrictions on troops. What is your assessment of the current state and readiness of the armed forces? Are they in a better place than they were four years ago? Why?
As a country, we are not in a better place than we were four years ago. With broken promises and mistrust of military leadership, increased homelessness, soaring gun violence and suicide rates, defense spending that was not requested by the DOD, failure to tackle the climate threat, and incompetent leadership in the Department of Veterans Affairs, this president has committed crimes, gutted our institutions, and abused the power of the presidency out in the open. We must protect our republic.
As president, I would honor the solemn commitment that 2.4 million servicemen and women serving in our armed forces and reserves. They, alongside 18.2 million military veterans, embody the highest ideals of service to country. I would consider a comprehensive proposal to strengthen our military. This would include identifying and securing national public service opportunities within government departments to complement the missions of armed services personnel with an emphasis placed on finding opportunities that focus on pressing economic and social challenges such as assisting veterans and military families. I would undo the ban on transgender people in the military. I would secure armed forces and military bases against extreme weather through smart infrastructure investments and planning, and eliminate risks to military personnel that arise out of our reliance on fossil fuels by transitioning to a safe and clean economy.
After one year of your administration, what size will the U.S. troop presence be in Afghanistan?
I would withdraw American troops out of Afghanistan within my first year in office.
In Syria and Iraq?
Donald Trump sold out the United States and our allies for the benefit of Vladimir Putin and Russia with this latest foreign policy blunder. The Middle East is a complex region. We had a relationship with the Kurds, a commitment there where they were helping us and we were helping them, and we were being successful.
We had a very specific mission to protect American lives, to control ISIS, and to work with our allies to do so. It was limited, it was successful, and we were working in coalition with people around the world. President Trump doesn’t believe in values, he doesn’t believe in missions, and he certainly doesn’t believe in coalitions, allies, or partners. For the past 10 years, I have been successful working with people, on the ground, in coalition, to solve problems. We need to work together, not have the go-it-alone approach currently employed.
Near-unanimous support of NATO shows that Trump’s antics are not in line with the wishes of the American people. Yet he will continue to act unilaterally to alienate our allies, including those in Europe. Donald Trump has no consistent plan for our nation’s military. I will, on day one, assume my full responsibilities as commander in chief. We have to go back to being a value driven country, that operates transparently, that supports its European allies and works together in concert to get things done.
What is the top personnel policy problem you see facing the armed forces today? How will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
On day one of my presidency, I will commit to establishing strong leadership in the armed forces and work tirelessly to fill remaining positions that are open. This commander in chief has been a horrible leader for our service members. Our nation’s warriors need to know that their country’s leadership is program and mission oriented and their safety is tantamount in the decisions leaders make. I will honor the solemn commitment that every American has made to serving our nation and I will pledge to place trust and faith in our military leadership.
Should the Defense Department budget increase or decrease? To what level?
I would support a reduction.
The Department of Defense’s budget should match the scope, scale, and threat that the United States faces today. The armed services work diligently to develop requirements and then the systems to meet the requirements — from sustaining a technological edge to deterrence. A combination of sequestration and continuing resolutions has a direct impact on the budget, especially on readiness. I will take these into consideration when evaluating the military budget.
I will also look at preparing for new dangers that are emerging or expected. Today’s wars between superpowers are different: they’re trade wars and information wars. It is vital that we modernize and reprioritize our defense and intelligence capabilities to meet the enemies we face today and keep our country safe, including climate threats and threat multipliers.
To create a safer and more secure America, we must secure our military bases against extreme weather, and improve our systems to prevent and recover from disasters. I will declare a climate emergency on day one of my presidency, and will supplement and prioritize defense spending to be aligned with our global national security priorities.
What is your plan to deal with the rising number of suicides in the military and veterans community?
With soaring suicide rates in the military and veterans communities, it is urgent that we address this public health crisis. We must start with a strong Department of Veterans Affairs and support our military leadership: it is the first way to attack this.
Our nation’s warriors deserve the best — both on the field and when they return home. While strides have been made in suicide awareness, prevention and treatment, there are still serious gaps in funding and access to providers. Veterans experience different issues from most civilians, such as higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
Sadly, veterans are more likely to act on a suicidal plan. I will work tirelessly to address the challenge of preventing suicides among our servicemen and women, and to expand health services for veterans, including ways to seek help from a mental health professionals. Non-mental health physicians and frontline healthcare providers are in a key position to screen for PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation in these patients. We need to work with advocates, veterans medical professions so our veterans receive the care they need and interventions can be achieved. I also stand ready to implement the urgent common-sense gun safety reforms we desperately need to tackle suicide rates.
What would be your top policy priority involving veterans, and how will you approach that issue differently from the current administration?
Our nation’s veterans deserve our respect, our gratitude, and the solemn pledge from their commander in chief that America will never waver in its commitment to them. I’m committed to veterans returning to their families and communities and to every dollar committed to their long-term well being. I was the only presidential candidate to call for canceling the student loan debt for permanently disabled veterans. I will work tirelessly toward supporting many top priorities involving veterans, including high suicide rates, homelessness, workforce training, mental health treatment, and student loan debt.
Have administration officials gone too far in pushing veterans health care services into the private sector?
Absolutely — this is not a policy I will pursue.
Would you repeal or alter existing VA community care programs?
Access to healthcare is a fundamental right for all Americans. The unique healthcare needs of veterans are best met through the VA, which is a fully integrated health care system in the country and the only health care system designed specifically for veterans.
Our first priority should be to make a commitment to the care that our veterans need. We need to build upon the success of the VA hospital system, and I will make the investments necessary to ensure that the system is properly resourced and modernized.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.